The landscape in front of you contains several distinctive steps from the valley floor down to the active river channel. These steps are called river terraces and have formed as the Ahuriri River has eroded into the thick layer of gravels on which you are standing. The gravels were most likely deposited from glacial outwash around 20,000 years ago by a former glacier. The glacier extended 40 kilometres from the head of the valley, ending 10 km up valley from this sign. Computer modelling indicates that the regional climate was about 6°C colder than the current climate.
The extent of the former Ahuriri Glacier ~20,000 years ago.
© Levan Tielidze
Largest remaining glacier in the Ahuriri Valley:
© Dr Lauren Vargo, Victoria University of Wellington
The former Ahuriri Glacier retreated as the climate warmed at the end of the last ice age (between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago). Today, only small glaciers exist on the high summits of this catchment. The largest is Thurneysen Glacier, at the head of Canyon Creek. Canyon Creek is a tributary that joins the Ahuriri River. Thurneysen Glacier is one of about 50 glaciers in New Zealand that are surveyed each year by the National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA). These surveys have taken place since the late 1970s to document how snow and ice cover is changing across the Southern Alps.
An ancient settlement and food-gathering place
Throughout history, the Ahuriri Valley has been used as a kāika nohoaka
(seasonal settlement) and kāika mahika kai (food-gathering place) by Kāi Tahu whānui, where tuna (eels), weka, kākāpō and other important resources were gathered. Today, Kāi Tahu whānui is actively working to restore the habitat and stocks of tuna and other taoka through riparian restoration work, as well as trap and transfer work. This assists the natural migration patterns of tuna and other species whose passage has been disrupted through the damming of the river for hydroelectric power schemes downstream.
Trapping mature tuna for transfer below the hydro dams to allow them to migrate to Te Moananui-a-Kiwa/Pacific Ocean for breeding.
The Ahuriri Glacier once dominated the scene in front of you.
Small glaciers still exist on the high summits in this area.
The Ahuriri Valley flows through the southern extent of Te Manahuna (the Mackenzie Basin) before reaching the man-made Lake Benmore Te Ao Mārama as its modern confluence with the Waitaki River.
Please be aware the following hazards include: water, traffic, uneven surface, unreliable ceel phone coverage, changing weather, avalanche risks.
Latitude: -44.463288 Longitude: 169.718288
Scenic views & Photo opportunities
To get to the Ahuriri Valley from Omarama, head up SH8 and follow the road for 17.5km. Turn right into Birchwood Road and follow this gravel road.
The Ahuriri Conservation Park is on Department of Conservation land. Visitors to this area must follow the management directive displayed on the DOC signs. Protection and guardianship are at the heart of the Geopark philosophy. We ask you to treat this site with respect and do not remove anything from this site so it can be preserved for our future generations to enjoy.